A solicitor who groped his secretary, told racist jokes and ran through the offices of his employer with a pretend Ku Klux Klan hood has been found guilty of sexual harassment and racist behaviour.
Samuel Maurice Charkham, 68, who was a partner at Simkins – Sir Cliff Richard’s law firm – faces a bill of more than £50,000: a fine of £30,000 and £21,000 in costs.
He qualified as a solicitor 43 years ago.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Charkham repeatedly touched a female colleague’s bottom and had once run around the Bloomsbury offices of Simkins calling the woman’s name and shouting “I’ve joined the KKK” while wearing a white A4 envelope on his head.
At a Christmas work party in 2016 Charkham told a racist joke in front of the woman, who is black, the tribunal heard. Evidence was also accepted that he habitually squeezed the secretary’s buttocks.
An accounts manager at the firm also said she had complained when Charkham touched her bottom in 2018.
The tribunal was also told that Charkham made antisemitic jokes, despite being Jewish himself.
Charkham denied ever having groped anybody and insisted to the tribunal that he was not a racist but accepted his comments were in bad taste. He admitted to having an “old fashioned sense of humour”.
His representative, Jonathan Goodwin, praised Charkham’s his “professionalism and capacity to deal with people” and read out a list of positive character references.
Goodwin said: “This is a person of integrity who is trustworthy and of good character. The references individually and collectively are positive and compelling and describe the real person sitting before you.” The misconduct finding did not affect his ability to practise, he added.
But head of the panel Jane Martineau, ordering the fine and costs against Charkham, said: “We recommend that he undertakes training in equality, diversity and inclusion.”
The tribunal said solicitors should “lead by example” and that Charkham’s failures in this respect were “very serious and reflected in the sanction”.
Staff were said to have grown accustomed to his racist and sexist behaviour. His secretary told the tribunal that Charkham had groped her at least 18 times over the course of four years. “It happened as frequently as he wanted it to,” she said.
She said she had been sitting at her desk preparing to take dictation from another lawyer when Charkham appeared running through the office with a white A4 envelope on his head laughing, joking saying he has joined the Ku Klux Klan. “I was shocked that this had happened,” she added.
In a statement, Simkins said that Charkham had left the firm more than two years ago and that it had reported the allegations against him to the regulator.
The defendant had since worked for West End law firm Portner Law. A partner at the firm, Ben Portner, told The Times newspaper that the firm had removed the lawyer as a consultant as soon as it found out about the allegations concerning his conduct before joining.
The full reasons for the tribunal’s judgment will be published in December.
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